20 years ago, at this minute in writing, my daughter was less than 6 hours old. So chances are, we were both trying to sleep.

My cousin gave me the idea for her name, which had been her choice for a girl if she’d had one. I liked it. It was close to the way my grandmother’s name, Catherine, would have been pronounced in her native Russia. I chose K because it was the first initial of my husband who’d died a year before she was conceived; I loved him deeply.

I don’t write much about her, primarily because she’d rather observe than be the center of attention. That’s not easy. She’s always been strikingly beautiful, even during her awkward phase when she thought she was anything but. She’s smart, musically gifted, and funny. I’m reining in my usual reliance on adjectives because a big part of the mom gig is believing that your kid is a genius. But I’ve watched other people respond to her over the years; no hyperbole is necessary.

I’ve been crazy about her since the moment she arrived, shocked and thrilled that she was a girl – I had one of those pregnancies where strangers would stop me in the street and declare that that was a boy if they’d ever seen one. I avoided ultrasounds on both pregnancies (after 9 months, surely a pleasant surprise is in order). With her, I avoided the hospital. I had spent much of 2 years of my life inside of them with the first K, and I wanted to stay out as much as possible. She was born at home, which, at the time, was my parents’ place on the beach in California. Her father and I had never even lived together; we were a stormy pair, and I finally just packed up my bags and left Key West behind with barely any backward glances. But I’m so grateful we managed to get together for the brief time that we did. I wouldn’t change a single strand of her DNA.

From the time she was born, I sang to her. She was a difficult baby and a bad sleeper; she needed to be held a lot and I was perfectly happy to do it. The one tune that always calmed her down was the last movement of Beethoven’s sixth symphony, which, unlike most Beethoven, is highly singable. As she grew older, I kept singing, every night, every song I could think of; thank God I’d been raised by a music lover and liked musical theatre. I sang as much Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, and even the occasional Kander and Ebb to her. But what she liked best was when I’d improvise lyrics to The Swan by Saint Saens. It was mostly along the lines of, “You are my beautiful swan” again and again. During the day, I’d play it for her on CD.

The first instrument she learned was her own voice, which is sweet and clear, a long way from my limited-range alto. The second was cello. When she was 3, Dennis and I got together, and then rock and roll parties entered the picture. Her music today – the stuff she writes, sings, records, and produces herself – is called, by her, collage rock. It’s a perfect description of not just what she does, but of her entire musical education.

And it’s not a bad description of her, either. She’s complex, multi-faceted, a mass of contradictions. Like the diamond that’s her birthstone, she is always bright and shining, the only jewel I’ve ever needed. She can also seem at times like the hardest substance known to man. But I’ve seen her soft, mostly when she thinks no one is looking, speaking in a made-up language to her cat, crying quietly over Brokeback Mountain, getting her dander up because someone dared to impugn Romeo and Juliet. A true and great romantic, she will always feel pain. But she will also always know that perfection, love, beauty, and grace exist, and are worth whatever you have to do to get them.

She is, indeed, my beautiful swan.

I love you, baby. Happy birthday.

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